When the idea of a New Years Eve party was proposed by Kristoph, Caolin prevailed upon his employer to allow him to use the pure gold flatware that was found among the treasures of Mount Lœng House. The butler wanted so desperately to show off the beautiful but terribly ostentatious settings which he and two of the footmen had polished in their own spare time in the evenings.

Kristoph held out for a full ten minutes before giving permission for the flatware to be used. He gave instructions, too, for the best Irish crystal glasses to be polished and the fine Welsh linen that Marion had bought when she first became mistress of Mount Lœng House.

“Please assemble the champagne fountain, as well,” he said. Caolin nodded. The ‘fountain’ was a magnificent structure built from over a hundred pieces of silver-edged glass that were usually kept in four velvet lined boxes in the back of the walk-in glass store off the kitchen corridor. It was rarely used because it was so much trouble to assemble, but this was going to be a particularly lavish party and it would be the centrepiece of the grand buffet tables.

Marion was busy for weeks before planning the menu for the grand buffet. It was even more complicated than the Christmas dinner party. A turkey dinner was straightforward. Deciding between a seafood cocktail, Gaspacho or a hot soup was the most difficult decision. But choosing a dozen different kinds of canapés and fifteen kinds of fish based dishes, all manner of roast meats and vegetable recipes, fruit compotes and cakes was absolutely exhausting. There were foods Marion never knew existed, called by names she had never envisaged.

She gave up choosing eventually and just ordered every dish that the cook and housekeeper suggested. When she told Kristoph that there were over three hundred recipes in preparation for the party he didn’t seem surprised.

“In my grandfather’s day we frequently had sit down dinners that were twenty or thirty courses long,” he said. “They could take as much as four hours to eat. Each course had an individual title and its own cutlery, flatware and wine glass. Believe me, a buffet is FAR simpler.”

“Then a buffet we will have,” Marion conceded. “But even if I SEE a ‘scallop miso’ on the table I won’t know what it is. I’ll just have to trust Mistress Calitha’s judgement on that one.”

She felt on better ground when she went to Rosanda’s room to plan the gown she was going to wear for the night. Many of her winter gowns were velvet and other warm fabrics, but there would be as many as a hundred people in the ballroom and they would be dancing for most of the night. Her gown was deep plum damask in a Tudor style. More than three yards of hand-made lace bought during her tour of the Dominions covered the sculpted bodice and went into a stiff collar that Elizabeth I would have been proud to wear.

She was making a second gown in a much smaller size for Rodan. It was in the same fabric with a flared skirt just like a grown up lady and a smaller collar. She would look like a miniature version of Marion in her own gown.

“I am making cloaks from that russet cashmere you brought from Shaju-Imnai,” Rosanda added. “You will both need them at midnight when you go out to watch the fireworks display.”

“There is plenty of that cashmere,” Marion said. “Make yourself a cloak, too. You and Caolin are our guests for the night, remember.”

“Yes” Rosanda answered. “I am looking forward to it. My dear man is, too, but I shouldn’t be at all surprised if he spends most of the evening carrying trays of drinks. He is so used to serving, it will feel strange to him being served instead.”

“Make him dance with you all night,” Marion told her. “Then he won’t be able to do anything else.”

She was looking forward to the big night. Before and after the Christmas celebration she started looking towards the ball. The invitations had gone out long ago. Very few people had any reason to decline. This was the party, after all, where the very best people would be on New Year’s Eve.

The gowns were ready the day before, but Marion kept them secret from Kristoph. She told him it would be a surprise. Rosanda, having completed her tasks, was the only member of the household who could relax now. Everyone else was very busy making Mount Lœng House sparkle and shine like a winter palace.

New Years Eve itself was a sparkling day. The overnight snow was followed by a dawn frost that made the gardens glitter in the cold sunshine that followed. Marion made sure she got a walk along the paths of the rose garden which had been carefully cleared of ice before she was embroiled in the last minute preparations. In the afternoon Kristoph insisted on her having at least two hours in bed and when she woke, she had a long bath in scented water before her own careful dressing for the evening.

Her personal maid did her hair in an elaborate fashion with lengths of twisted gold delicately woven into it. Her make-up was completed while she was still wearing the lace foundation garments. Then she put on the gown Rosanda had made. That, too, was gold trimmed around the hem and the neckline. She felt as if she was being dressed to match the gold dinner service and the fresh greenery that adorned the walls of the ballroom.

Rodan was dressed by her own maid, and when she stood with Marion and looked in the mirror they were a perfect match. Rodan was wearing a gold pendant that Kristoph had left in her room. It was made from a whole ounce of de Lœngbærrow gold with a tiny white diamond in the middle, and was her own personal legacy of her life as the foster child of the Patriarch of that great Oldblood House.

“I have my own gold,” she said, recalling her find in the ruins of Ancient Olympia on one of those many excursions she had enjoyed during the past years. “But papa had this one made for me.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “It is very special for that reason.” She, herself, was wearing a necklace and earrings, and gold bracelets that had once belonged to the wife of Kristoph’s great, great, great grandfather, another of the treasures of the de Lœngbærrow family. Once she would have been nervous of wearing something so old and so precious. On any market in the cosmos and in any currency they were worth millions. But she had got used to taking gold and diamonds for granted. Kristoph helped by saying that she was the most precious jewel in his life and the glittering ornaments merely served to enhance her.

He said things like that all the time, though sometimes when she looked in a mirror and realised she was going to be thirty next year she wondered if he was just flattering her.

Not tonight, though. Tonight she felt beautiful and sparkling just like everything around her. She was ready to receive every one of their guests, Oldblood and Newblood, visiting Ambassadors from friendly worlds and all.

Among those visitors was the President of Haollstrom and her bonded partner - Claudia Jean and Hillary. Marion greeted them both with hugs and unashamed kisses.

“You look beautiful, my dear,” Hillary told her. “Absolutely stunning.”

“It’s easy with several ounces of gold and several yards of expensive fabric. The first time I met you, I was not quite so sumptuously dressed and I felt quite inferior.”

“Never, my dear. And besides, we are absolute equals, now – the consorts of the Presidents of our worlds.”

That was certainly the case. When they stood together to meet the other guests, Marion felt every inch the President’s wife, an exemplary hostess, and more than anything, she was enjoying herself.

She found out in the course of the evening that a ‘Scallop Miso’ was a shellfish cooked in a glaze that was both sweet and delightfully savoury at the same time. It was served with a sauce of the same flavour and was quite delicious. She avoided too much of the sauce, though, in case it dripped on her beautiful gown, something she had never got over worrying about in all her years at Kristoph’s side at these kind of functions.

She discovered that the Premier Cardinal could dance a tango. He did so with both Hillary and Claudia-Jean in turn. Perhaps it was their Haolstromnian pheromones breaking down his inhibitions or he had allowed himself to be mellowed by the fine wines, but he seemed to enjoy himself and didn’t worry at all about the dignity of his office.

Everyone discovered what the huge champagne fountain was for. Kristoph stood on the shoulders of Caolin and Sheogham who steadied him manfully as he poured two jeroboams of the very best champagne into the top part of the crystal structure. Even before he was finished it had tipped part of its load into the next tier of containers which, in turn poured down onto the next. When he descended to the ground champagne was still pouring down in sparkling streams to land in the hundreds of glasses carefully arranged around the very bottom. Kristoph gave the first glass to Marion and took one for himself to toast the old year before the waiters put the rest on silver trays and distributed them amongst the guests.

The champagne fountain was set in motion with only fifteen minutes to midnight. They were on their second glass when the great clock in the hall chimed thirteen and they raised their flutes to each other to wish a happy new year. When it had been drunk, in the first minutes of that nascent year, the huge French doors along one side of the ballroom were thrown open. Everyone trooped outside. There was a clear but moonless night with stars bright in the burnt-brown sky. To the north there was a peculiar rumble. It was celebratory cannon fire from the usually quiet and peaceful Athenica. To the south and the far north laser light danced across the horizons. They came from the poles and yet they were still visible here just a few hundred miles south of the equator. Such was the power of Time Lord laser technology, even if it was just for the purpose of a celebration.

On the long meadow there was a celebratory light show set up that would rival the polar lasers, at least for those who gathered to witness it. Marion and Rodan and Rosanda, all wore cloaks of russet cashmere. Other ladies were cloaked, too. The men were hardier in their dinner suits.

These were Chinese fireworks. The Time Lords were noted for their lugubriousness and stoicism, but not for their fireworks. Kristoph had obtained them with a little help from Li and his contacts in the Chinese wholesale export trade. They were like nothing anyone had seen on this planet, full of colour and magnificent shapes accompanied by noise that shattered the peace of the night even more completely than the cannon fire. It was a magnificent display thoroughly enjoyed by the guests of the Lord High President.

After the fireworks were over there was more champagne and more dancing inside, but several couples took advantage of a chance to walk quietly in the gardens. Hillary and Claudia-Jean sought a quiet spot. Young Ginnel Dúccesci, home from his desert academy for the winter holiday was walking with the daughter of a Newblood family.

Marion and Kristoph walked in their own rose garden for a while. Marion was quiet, deep in thought about the year to come. There was excitement to come, of course, as well as duties to fulfil, but there was one event that was already causing her to worry.

“Rodan’s grandfather will be home in the summer,” she said. “We will be losing her again.”

“We will never lose her,” Kristoph answered. “She belongs to us as much as to him. She will be here for riding lessons three mornings a week and academic tutorials in the afternoon. You will see her often. She is not going to become an ordinary Caretaker child. We have seen to that, good and proper!”

“Even so…” Marion sighed. “No, you are right. We know that is best for her. But I will miss having her here as our own child.”

“I think she won’t be anyone’s child for much longer,” Kristoph admitted. “She is growing up fast.”

In proof of that, he stopped Marion on the path they were walking and brought her into the shadows. A very young couple passed by. It was Rodan with Breissal Arcalian, the boy she had met at the Untempered Schism in the summer.

They were holding hands as they walked.

“They’re too young for THAT!” Marion protested.

“That is why they are just holding hands. They both faced the Schism six months ago. The wonders of Creation were revealed to them. Some of those wonders include relationships between the male and female of our kind of species. Of course they will want to practice courtship in their own way.”

“Do you suppose….” Marion suggested.

“I don’t know. I kissed quite a few women before I found the one I wanted to marry. Perhaps Breissal Arcalian will, too. As for Rodan, we have given her the freedom to choose her own destiny. Who knows what that will be, and who she will share it with. The choice is hers.”

“Yes,” Marion admitted. “Yes, it is.”